British America

Dublin Core


British America




The map British America has a focus area of British North America in the mid 19th century, which is today Canada and covers the geographic area of North America, Greenland, and Iceland. J. Rapkin, a mapmaker who drew and engraved maps for John Tallis & Company of London and New York, created this map in 1850. It was published in John Tallis’ Illustrated Atlas, with illustrations by H. Warren that depict a seal, a whale, a polar bear, the city of Montreal, Inuit people (Eskimos), and the Royal Navy ships Fury and Hecla. This map shows the most detail along the coast by providing the name for every known bay, lake, inlet, and river. Its also relays information about the location of all of the forts and principle stations of the Hudson’s Bay Company as well as major cities. Thus, the map is significant because it shows how the British valued British America for it fur and fishing resources that can be found in British America and it’s surrounding counties and colonies.


J. Rapkin


John Tallis & Company




Kristin Dosen


Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.5 License


Full-sized digital item can be found in McMaster's Digital Archive at:


Paper: colour; map 27X33 cm, on sheet 28x36 cm








North America- Canada

Still Image Item Type Metadata

Original Format


Physical Dimensions

Map 27X33 cm, on sheet 28x36 cm

Contributor's Research

John Tallis was one of the most popular cartographers and publishers of the 19th century. Yet, while others in the same field produced maps that were presented in a very scientific manner, Tallis produced maps that could also be considered works of art. His maps are believed to be the last decorative cartography produced in the 19th century (Tallis Maps of Canada). Despite their artistic element, however, Tallis maps are also extremely detailed and correct. In his Illustrated Atlas, which was published in 1851, Tallis produced beautiful maps with decorative boarders and detailed vignettes. Vignettes are small illustrations that fade into their background without a definite boarder (Merriam-Webster, 2015). Unlike earlier maps in which vignettes and other images were often used to represent the unknown, Tallis uses these elegant images in his maps to illustrate important cities, people, resources, and many other details of a map’s area of focus.
These images add to the overall information that Tallis’ maps provide their viewer, by delivering knowledge beyond the locations of specific cities or towns and geographic features that a map commonly includes. The map titled British America, which was drawn and engraved by J. Rapkin and published in Tallis’ Illustrated Atlas in 1851, is an excellent example of a Tallis map with vignettes that provide a viewer with valuable additional information (Tallis Maps of Canada). This map of British America has six vignettes depicting whale fishing, the city of Montreal, a seal, a polar bear, Inuit people, and the ships Fury and Hecla sailing in the North. These images portray knowledge about the British colony and areas surrounding it that could not have otherwise been provided in a map. For instance, a viewer of this map would not have been able to understand what the dress of Inuit people looks like with just a regular map, since a simple symbol could not have relayed the same amount of detail. Images have the ability to quickly communicate information that would have otherwise needed a thorough written description to explain. The subjects of these vignettes also held a particular significance to British America at the time and Tallis uses them to relate important historical events to the area.
The vignette of the two Royal Navy ships HMS Hecla and HMS Fury, as seen in Figure 1, is specifically significant to this map of British America because this image shows a viewer the importance of British exploration in the Arctic during the 19th century. At the end of the Napoleonic wars, the large British Navy no longer had a purpose, and the British government decided to deploy their vessels in a number of navel expeditions to the Arctic in order to discover a northwest passage (The Mariner’s Museum, 2015). The HMS Hecla and HMS Fury, which appear in a vignette in the north of the map, set sail in May of 1821 under the command of George Lyons and William Parry respectively in an attempt to find a northwestern passage in the Arctic, a route to the Pacific, in order to better facilitate trading between these regions (The Mariner’s Museum, 2015). Aboard the ships Fury and Hecla, Parry sailed down the Hudson straight then entered into Repulse Bay (Guitard, 2001). Upon realizing that this area was surrounded by land with no navigable passages to the West, Parry turned northward but was caught by winter ice near the Melville Peninsula, until July of 1822 when the crew was finally able to free their vessels from the ice and continue sailing north (Guitard, 2001). With the assistance of the Inuit, who told Parry of a passage that led to the Pacific, the ships discovered the Fury and Hecla Straight, which was named after the two sea vessels (Ostenso 2015). Yet, the ships had to once again face the difficulty of sailing in winter Arctic water and found the straight to be blocked with ice. Parry crossed the straight on foot determining that it was in fact a westward passage and spent another winter in the north with the hope that the ice would melt in the summer, however, this was to no avail (Guitard, 2001). As a result of this setback and the deteriorating health of the crew, the ships were forced to head home after they were able to break free of the ice that had trapped them for a second winter (Guitard, 2001). The struggles of his previous expeditions would not stop Parry who set off on another expedition to the Arctic with the HMS Hecla and HMS Fury in 1824 (The Mariner’s Museum, 2015). Unfortunately, the ships were blocked by strong accumulations of ice at the opening of Baffin Bay (Guitard, 2001). The journey became very dangerous and severely damaged the HMS Fury forcing Parry to abandon it. Even though Parry was forced to return to England, he gained from this expedition valuable information about arctic fauna and the possible location of the magnetic pole (Guitard, 2001).
These voyages on the HMS Hecla and HMS Fury discovered a significant portion of the Arctic and learned a substantial amount about the culture and way of life of Inuit populations in the north of British America (Guitard, 2001). They paved the way for further expeditions of the Arctic and greatly added to the British’s knowledge of the north. The level of detail achieved in the mapping of the Arctic in the mid 19th century was a result of the exploration of theses two ships. Thus, the vignette of these two ships is significant because without their expeditions to the Arctic, Tallis would not have been able to publish a map with as much detail in the Arctic as he did. Without the HMS Hecla and HMS Fury a lot more of the Arctic on this map of British America would have be depicted with uncertainty, as can be seen further north on the map.

Works Cited

Guitard, Michelle (2001). William Parry and the Arctic Archipelago. Retrieved from

Merriam-Webster. (2015). Vignette. Retrieved from

Rapkin, J.. (1850). British America [map]. London: John Tallis & Company.

Tallis Maps of Canada. Retrieved from

The Mariner’s Museum. (2015). HMS Hecla. Retrieved from

Ostenso, Ned (2015). Arctic: Study and Exploration. In Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved from"


J. Rapkin, “British America,” Omeka Testbed, accessed July 21, 2018,